Phenology watch

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring is here!

I just realized it's been over a month since my last post.  Thanks to a new comment (Welcome, Paula!), and a reminder from another blog I follow, I am ready to get back into the swing of things here.  The last month has been very stressful, and I didn't want to burden everyone who reads this with my emotional rantings.  Things have settled down quite a bit, and it's time for me to get back to the land of the living!

Baby chicks arrived on March 4th.  They were supposed to be here the week before, but a late snow delayed things.  They're now three weeks old, and they are serious eating and pooping machines!!  I got 25 Jumbo Cornish X for meat, and 5 Cuckoo Marans for eggs.  Unfortunately, I lost one Marans, but I think one casualty out of 30 is pretty good.  They are just finishing up their first 40lb bag of 20% Starter/grower, and I think when the bag is gone I will switch them to 25% Finisher feed.  (Any input on that idea would be greatly appreciated!).

I had my garden planting schedule all laid out for the year - that kind of went out the window with the late snow.  I tilled the garden under just this past Saturday, and I'm going to start planting this week.  I've got started peas and broccoli, and I'm going to buy seed potatoes and onion sets today.

So, I'm back!  I'll try to post more often now...Pics later today.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


That's all I can say right now.  Wow.  The last week has been one stress on top of another around here.  A process server came to the door on Thursday looking for my husband.  On Friday, he lost his job (not related to Thursday's visitor in any way).  The boss' kid who has been wreaking havoc around the jobsite is now doing his job.  We're in the middle of a real estate sale, and on Monday we found out we had some major repair issues after the inspection.  On Tuesday, I e-filed our taxes with the anticipation of a nice sized refund being deposited directly into our bank account in 7 - 14 business days.  On Tuesday, it was rejected.  Turned out our son had claimed himself on his return that he had just filed a couple of days ago, even though we are eligible to claim him.  Now, we have to wait for his refund to come, then have him file an amended return, which can take up to 3 months to process, before they'll process ours.  That only took 4 hours and multiple phone calls to the IRS to figure out.  Now we are waiting on our buyers to see how the sale is going to turn out.  It may fall through completely.  Time will tell.

In other news, the Urban-type homestead-like movement is up in arms over the Dervaes family's of Pasadena, CA attempt to copyright the terms "urban homestead", "urban homesteading", and almost a dozen other, similar phrases.  In only a few hours, the Dervaes Family facebook page lost over 2,000 fans, and instead of responding they took down their page.  They went on to delete major portions of their website.  I have been following the situation with much of the blogs that many people are linking to is Crunchy Chicken, and I really liked NW Edible Life's post.  If only I could write as well!  This facebook page has also been set up in protest.  It has gained over 1300 fans overnight.  Wow, if only this could happen with Monsanto!  :)

My new facebook picture.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Random things

I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend!  We went to our friends' house for their annual Superbowl party.  Ate and drank too much, and had a fabulous time.  Go Packers!!

I decided I wanted to taste my beer, so I put a couple of bottles in the refrigerator.  It has been one month since I brewed it, and 2 weeks since bottling.  At this point, you can refrigerate and drink it, or let it continue to condition in a dark, cool place.  The verdict?  Not bad!  It tasted a little bit sweet to me, so I'll cut down on the sugar when I bottle my next batch.  Was it worth it?  That's debatable...I like knowing that I made it, but the bottling process is a hassle.  I'll continue to experiment, and if I do well I'll probably invest in a 5-gallon carboy and skip the bottling. 

I ordered my meat birds over the weekend...I will be getting 25 Cornish X chicks on February 25th.  I am so excited!  I haven't had chicks around for a while, and I'm looking forward to raising my own meat.  Pierce County has a mobile poultry processing unit, and I plan on processing them at about 6-1/2 weeks.  I will definitely keep you posted on that. 

I'm still working on perfecting my multigrain bread, and I plan on never buying another loaf...making it is so easy, and SO good...

I make my Killer Karamel Korn for Superbowl every's the recipe.  I have never brought home leftovers, and I always make a double batch...

Jen's Killer Karamel Korn

4 cups popped corn
4 cups puffed corn
4 cups Rice or Corn Chex
2 cups mini pretzels
1 cup pecan halves
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Combine first 5 ingredients (through pecans) in large baking dish.  (I use a deep 9x13 dish).  In saucepan, stir brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup over medium heat until it comes to a boil over the entire surface.  Lower heat to medium-low, and continue to cook for 5 minutes without stirring.  Remove pan from heat, and stir in vanilla and baking soda.  Carefully - it can puff up quite a bit.  Stir well and pour over popcorn mixture, stirring to combine.  Bake 15 minutes, stir well, and return to oven for another 15 minutes.  Stir again, and pour out onto a large piece of parchment paper.  Let cool, then break into small pieces.  Careful, it's addicting!!

Friday, February 4, 2011

A busy couple of days

Things have been relatively quiet around here, which is good!  The rest of the country is being pounded by a "killer storm", yet we here in the Great PNW have been enjoying sunshine and mild temperatures the last couple of days.  Today, it seems the clouds are returning, and may bring some showers.  Fine by me!  No more waking up to 27 degrees, and having to break the ice on the chickens' water and all my bird baths around the yard!

On Sunday, I attempted, yet again, to bake the perfect loaf of bread.  And I failed, again.  What is it with me and yeast???  Either the bread doesn't rise at all, or it rises so high, that it falls flat if I touch it, and bakes to a fine brick-like consistency.  On Tuesday, I decided I was going to try several different recipes until I had accomplished what I set out to do...bake the perfect loaf.  I decided to start with a whole-grain recipe, spend my time perfecting that, then re-visit the whole white bread/artisan/french bread-type.  I decided to start with this recipe and oh, man, did I pick the right one!  It calls for 7-grain hot cereal mix, which I didn't have, so I used oatmeal.  It turned out moist, soft, and absolutely delicious!  I think I may have even converted my oldest son, whom I affectionately call "Wonder Bread Boy" when we discuss his eating was that good.  I then bought some 7-grain cereal mix and made the recipe as written.  It still turned out great, but much more dense than the oatmeal.  I will now be making both kinds every week.
Now, to find the perfect french bread recipe....

Ready for its first rise

After first rising

Ready for second rise - in the oven with the light on

After second rise.  Please don't ask if I took a photo of the finished product.  Because I didn't.  Dork!
The rest of the week has been spent doing housework and yardwork...yes, my life is that interesting!  I did have a little bit of excitement thrown in on Wednesday when I heard a horrible commotion coming from the chicken coop and went out to find a Red-Tailed Hawk terrorizing the girls...but the Mister did his job and quickly ushered them all into the coop.  I spent the rest of the day shoveling yard compost and horse manure on an area of the garden I want to expand.  Boy, was I glad when the Kid came home from school and was able to help!

Free from a local horse farm.  Gotta love free!

Smelly goodness

The part of the garden I'm expanding - the chicken wire fence is temporary.

The Mister and his girls

Garden in the foreground - chicken coop and run in the back

Kasie - my guard dog.  HA!

  Oh, and I brewed another batch of beer with my Mr Beer Brew Kit.  The first batch should be ready in a few days! 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Me against Monsanto

I really don't have anything to say, except please read this, and if you feel as I do click on the link towards the end of the article and let your Grocers know you will not stand for GE foods!  I will no longer shop at Whole Foods.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bottling Day!

Well, it's been two weeks since I brewed my first batch of beer using my Mr. Beer kit.  Next step:  bottling.

The kit I received included 8 16-oz plastic bottles with lids, and I debated whether to use those, or the bottles I've been collecting over the last few weeks.  (I went to my cousin's in Spokane for the weekend - and found out he's a microbrew drinker.  Score!  Thank goodness my mom had driven over...I just don't see how I could have carried three cases of empty beer bottles back home in my carry-on luggage!!)
I decided to go ahead and use the plastic ones when I read that it's easier to judge when carbonation is complete.  The plastic bottle becomes rock hard.  For my first batch, I want to be sure I'm doing it right.  If they were in glass bottles and not ready for the next step, I could ruin the entire batch.

Sanitizing the bottles
First step - sanitize.  Just mix the other half of the packet of powder included with the kit with a gallon of warm water, fill each bottle half way, cap and shake.  Then sit for ten minutes.

Step two:  Drain sanitizer from bottle and add sugar.  For my 20 oz. bottles, I needed one teaspoon of sugar each.  Using the tap on the keg, fill each bottle.  It's important not to move the keg much, there's a lot of sediment on the bottom.

This is the sediment left at the bottom of the keg

Here's a picture of the first bottle, and the last.  You can see how much cloudier the one on the right is.  No need to worry about it - it will settle to the bottom of the bottle just like it did in the keg.

Here they are!  All ready to carbonate.  Now that they're bottled, they will sit for another two weeks while the yeast and sugar work their magic, producing the carbon dioxide needed for carbonation.

Back to their temporary home in the cabinet!

Next step in two weeks!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday is Genealogy Day

I am a Genealogy fanatic.  About three years ago, I joined Since that time, I have added close to 4,000 names to my tree!  Two years ago, I found a branch of my father's family that I never even knew existed, and have since attended a family reunion.  I have also reunited my mother with two of her first cousins.  It's amazing what information you can find!
Sometimes, you can't find the records you need online to finish that little piece of the puzzle.  A lot of information is on microfilm or microfiche that has not been digitized, and the only way you can access it is to visit the local City, County, or State Library.  Now, most of my family is from Iowa and Minnesota - and unless I make a major road trip or shell out bucks for air, hotel, and car - there is no way I can get to those local libraries for that golden nugget of information.  That's where Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK)  comes in!  People volunteer to do lookups in their local area for people all over the country.  I volunteer for Pierce County, WA, and Wednesdays are my day to get things done. Today I was able to fulfill three requests for copies of obituaries.  I always go the extra mile, though, so after the library I stopped at three cemeteries to take pictures of gravesites.  (I'm also a volunteer at, so I know how much information can be gleaned from a headstone, surrounding family stones, and cemetery records).  I also stopped at two of the addresses listed in the obit and took pictures of the houses, so their descendants could see where they had lived - sometimes 100 years ago!  Today, I found out that a family purchased four plots in a local cemetery in 1918, and only one has been used.  Hmmm...I wonder what's going to happen to those other plots....I just love a mystery!  I had been searching for years to find out where my Irish ancestors came from - unfortunately, records were not kept well during the Potato Famine, when my relatives, along with a million other Irishmen, emigrated.  Using RAOGK, I found a volunteer who took a photo of my great-great-grandfather's grave in Minnesota, and it says right on the gravestone - from County Meath!!
If you're new to genealogy, or interested in getting started, let me know and I'll see what I can do to help you.  I have an World Deluxe Membership - if you just want me to look something up for you, I can do that, also.  Try it - it's fun!  And, you never know what you might find out....

Monday, January 17, 2011

Phenology vs. Lunar Gardening.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate.

Astrological Gardening (also referred to as lunar gardening, lunar planting, moon planting, planting by the signs, planetary planting) is a term given to the belief that gardening or farming practices that rely on the timing of different phases of the moon, stars, planets and various astrological signs of the Zodiac can result in the growth of crops of superior quality and quantity. Astrological gardening is thought to have been practiced for centuries, and is still used today by some gardeners and farmers.

I am determined to have a great GREAT garden this year.  I always have high hopes and big dreams, but reality never comes close.  It probably has something to do with that watering thing.  Or, the fact that I don't keep up on weeds and succession planting.  You know - those annoying little things you're supposed to do to keep your garden growing.

Well, this year I'm determined not to fail.  And, I'm blogging about it.  I have to do well.  

I don't remember where I first heard about Lunar Gardening, but I have been reading anything I can get my hands (eyes?) on to learn everything I can about it.  Opinions range from "hokey mumbo-jumbo" all the way to "it's-an-exact-science-down-to-what-time-of-day-during-the-phase-to-plant".  Whew!  I guess I'm somewhere in between.    I'm going to plant by the basic idea that you plant root crops (radishes, potatoes, etc) as the moon wanes from full to new, and above-ground crops (lettuces, beans, etc) as the moon waxes from new to full.  I took out my calendar, recorded the moon phases, then planned each sowing (along with all succession crops) through to the fall.
Then I started reading more about phenology.  Dang!  Now I might have to re-do my whole planting schedule.  Phenology uses signs from nature to determine when to plant.  (Plant tomatoes when the Lily of the Valley is in full bloom...)  Here is a list of some ideas I have gathered:

Peas when the Crocuses, Forsythia, and/or Daffodil bloom.

Swiss chard, spinach, beets and onions when Daffodils are in bloom.

Potatoes when the first Dandelion blooms.

Beets, carrots, cole crops, lettuce, and spinach when the Lilac is in first leaf.

Beans, cucmbers, and squash when the Lilac is in full bloom.

Tomatoes when Lily of the Valley is in full bloom.

Melon and pepper transplants when Irises bloom.

Corn, beans, and cucumbers when apples blossoms start to fall.

Tomatoes, melons, peppers, corn, and beans when Flowering Dogwood is in full bloom.

Tomatoes, melons, and eggplant when Peonies flower.

Fall crop cabbage and broccoli seeds when Mock Orange flowers or after Dogwoods have dropped their flowers.

I suppose at this point I will use my lunar calendar as a guide, but I will definitely be keeping an eye on the other plants at the same time.  It will be interesting to see how it all turns out.

Here are a few of the best links I found:
  (This book will also tell you when to get your hair cut, when to make an investment, or when to go fishing!)

I'd like to know if anyone else uses phenology or lunar planting, and what kind of success you've had.  Please leave a comment!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Getting ready for Spring

I spent a few days last week planning this year's vegetable garden.  I have BIG plans!!  I'm even going to try my best to start most things from seed this year.  I've tried many times before, and for various reasons it has not worked well.  Like watering, for instance.  Did you know that plants don't grow if you don't water them?  I can't tell you how many flats of seeds I've set on top of the refrigerator and forgot about.  Not watering is not good.  Last year I invested in a seedling heat mat and it worked quite well.  I was able to leave the flat on the counter in the laundry room, where I actually saw it, and remembered to water it.  Things were looking up!  Then, apparently the next flat I used had a small hole in it.  After a few days, I wasn't seeing much condensation build-up on the inside of the plastic dome.  I lifted up the flat, and the mat was sitting in a puddle of water.  Cold.  Damn.  I'm lucky I didn't burn the freakin' house down!

  So, when I decided that this was the year I was going to make my seed-starting a success, I started looking at seedling mats again.  They're danged expensive!  A one-flat size mat is $30.  And I had already decided that it wasn't big enough and needed one that would warm two flats.  $50 bucks.  Then I found this.  I could make that!  So, I gathered what I could, went to Home Depot for the rest (a piece of plexiglass and a sheet of foam), and got to building.

 First, I built a small wooden box out of some thin, light weight wood I had.  The piece of plexiglass was 18x24, so I made the box 17.5x23.5 to avoid last year's debacle with pooling water.  I used wood glue and finishing nails to hold it all together.
The finished box

Next, I cut a piece of foam to fit the inside dimensions of the box.

 Then, I cut the sides and glued all the the foam pieces to the inside of the box.

I used clothespins to hold it all together

Then, instead of using rope lights, I decided to use Christmas lights.  I don't know why I thought of it, maybe because I've been stepping over THIS since Thanksgiving...

The broken strands of lights that have been sitting in a pile on the dining room floor since I decorated the tree.  I was going to sit down, inspect each one, and replace the broken bulbs to make them work again.  You can see that hasn't happened yet.  One of the extra-long strands in the pile had about half its' lights working.  The rest went in the trash.

The finished box, on my kitchen counter
I set the plexiglass on top, and it was done!  From start to finish, the whole project took about an hour and cost a total of $11.  And, it holds two flats at a time.

I still needed to test the temperature, though.  I had no idea how many Christmas lights I would need.  So I set a thermometer on top of the box and kept watch. 

64 degrees!  Yay!

However, 15 minutes later this is what I found...

80 degrees!  Too hot!

So I set up my little greenhouse flat and put the thermometer inside to get a truer reading of what the soil temperature will end up being.

 After half an hour...

74 degrees - Just Right.

And there you have it!  A two-flat heat mat for $11 instead of $50.  Gotta love it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Brewing with Mr. Beer

Here's something new.  My husband bought me this brewing kit for Christmas.  I think if you buy direct from their website the Premium Kit that I got is about $50, plus $8 for shipping.  I did find it on Amazon, however, for $38 and free shipping.  It includes everything you need to brew and bottle 2 gallons of beer.  Yesterday, I brewed my first batch.  I can't wait to try it!  Two of my husband's nephews brew their own, and it's really good.  And, I found out, quite simple to do. 

Here's what I did -
  1. Sanitize everything.  Very easy to do with the packet of no rinse sanitizer that's included.  Just add the powder to some water, soak for 10 minutes, and drain.
  2. Dissolve the package of powder marked Booster in water by stirring.  A.Long.Time.  LONG.TIME.  I cannot stress this enough...get those forearm muscles in shape!  It needs to be completely dissolved.
  3. Bring this mixture to a boil.  Remove from heat, and stir in the can of Hopped Malt Extract.
  4. Fill the keg halfway with water, add the boiled mixture, and stir.
  5. Sprinkle the yeast into the keg, let it sit for 5 minutes, stir, then screw on lid.
  6. Let sit for 7-14 days, then bottle.  Let sit again for 1-3 weeks.  Refrigerate, and enjoy!
Adding the yeast
The yeast starting to work its magic!

The full keg, ready to sit for 14 days
In its hiding spot          

On January 25th, after sitting for 2 weeks, the beer will be bottled.  I'll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Welcome to my blog!

The other day, I was searching for a blog about learning to homestead in the Pacific Northwest.  Specifically, southern Puget Sound.  I wanted to find someone in my area who was doing the same thing I'm trying to do - get back to basics and become more self-sufficient.  I have questions!  When I wasn't able to find exactly what I was looking for, I thought - why not start your own?  Yeah, right!  I can't write.  I'm boring.  Who's going to want to read it, you fool??  But then I realized, even if nobody reads it, what a great tool I have to document my trials and tribulations.  I've never been great at keeping diaries, but if I'm going to make this little homestead work, I've got to keep good records.  If I get feedback and followers, well, that's just a big ole plus in my book! 
So, if you're out there and interested in following my journey, then come on in!  It's going to be a fun ride!